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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Richard Barentine, January 28, 1999. Interview I-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Coordination of business is essential

The International Home Furnishings Marketing Association publishes its material in eleven different languages, says Barrentine in this lengthy excerpt, illustrating the Association’s growth. Barrentine uses this point to move to a discussion of the vast effort it takes to meet the Association’s mandate and one of its most important components: coordination. Coordination is best performed by "a few enlightened people," Barrentine believes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Richard Barentine, January 28, 1999. Interview I-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

RB: We started with three languages in about 1979. We've always used our government partners to help us determine which languages we should use. We've used the US Department of Commerce, and we've used the North Carolina Department of Commerce. I suspect those first three languages were Italian, Spanish, and probably German. Now we're up to--. Let's see if we can name eleven: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic. Where's one more? One more. Our government partners have told us that the languages need to embrace America's trading partners. Obviously our promotions are designed to go to our trading partners who can come here and buy American products, though the Market's exhibitor base now has ten percent of its exhibitor base as international. It's hard to tell what an international exhibitor is now because Natuzzi -- a major manufacturer of leather furniture, in Italy -- has an American division. Almost every domestic manufacturer has imported goods in their lines. It gets kind of hard. In communication, we maintain about one hundred specific communication pieces that are designed for targeted distribution, internal/external. They have to do with just all kinds of things. We do about thirty-six mailings a year of targeted material from mailings of as many as 50,000 pieces down to mailings of several hundred. In 1997 -- we haven't done our annual report for '98 -- we distributed about 200,000 pieces of printed material from our office. Then all of this is reproduced. It's just exponential how many times it gets reproduced. We provide it in disk form, negative form, whatever [form] anybody wants. It's in all the trade publications, but we ourselves distribute about 200,000 pieces. As the Market sponsor, we define the event. We do its statistics. We establish its impact. We do its official closing day statements. [That way] we are portraying the event in its largest terms. Coordination is one of the most important of the four mandate points. Promotion, coordination, communication, administration. There isn't anything that happens in the Market area--. Again, we're not going to the grocery store, we're going to the capital M Market. We need to know what road construction is going to take place in the Greater Triad area. We need to know if airports are going to be having additional or fewer flights. [We need to know about] runway problems because the people who come to this market are coming here as industry professionals. This is learned behavior. They will come their entire career if they stay in the home furnishings industry in a position that requires that they do this. There are many people who have been to a hundred markets. A hundred April and October Markets. These are seasoned veterans who have been coming a long, long time. We have to be sure that their behavior matches the growth here at Market, so that things still are reasonably familiar. We don't change a lot of things. We manage the partnerships to avoid change [and] so that we can refine those things that are going well. We can add things, but we don't make major shifts in coordination, in logistics. The event is so large now that our airline discount arrangements cover flights to Charlotte-Douglas, Raleigh-Durham, Piedmont Triad International, [and] Smith-Reynolds in Winston and Hickory. We're no longer an event that can be handled simply by the infrastructure in the Greater Triad. We need to know on the state level, on the county level, on the city level, on the hotel industry level, [and] the restaurant level what's going on. We need the people that come to Market to have the maximum number of choices in familiar settings, to have this event take place. When bridges need to be closed, they don't need to be closed during Market. We are on the corporate calendars across North Carolina alerting these people across the state and the nation and the industries when this event's going to take place. You asked me earlier [about] 2020. That's a long way out. We're the largest event in North Carolina, so we are the largest in the Triad. We don't need to share the infrastructure with events that can have their dates whenever they choose. [Here is] a wonderful example of how this partnership works. A number of years ago, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was ready to dedicate its world headquarters. Remember where I came from. I heard and it was going to be right in the middle of Market. I contacted the person at the tobacco company that made that decision, [someone] very high ranking. [His name was] Mr. Charles Wade, the late Mr. Charles Wade. I said, “Mr. Wade, do you know that--.” I'm talking to a senior level Reynolds executive, knowing that I want him to change his date but not knowing whether the importance of the Furniture Market has gotten to that level. Mr. Wade said, “What are your dates?” I told him and he said, “Market's too important. We can't conflict with y'all.” He said, “I don't know what we were thinking about. Obviously we weren't thinking.” He said, “I'll take care of it.” We knew that if Reynolds wanted every hotel room in Winston-Salem for the dedication of that world headquarters they could have them. Therein was the partnership, the communication to that external audience and then the coordination. With minor exceptions, this event operates alone during that space of time. We have taught the federal government, the state government, and the railroads that you can replace railroad overpass bridges in this city. Now we need to say that the importance of the railroad is why this city has its name High Point. It was the highest point on a stretch of the railroad. It ran through on a north-south access for many years, grade level. Then at some point, the city fathers and the community decided, I guess, that they'd stopped for all the trains they were going to stop for. They dug a below grade ditch, which the Darr's see because their wonderful historic house is at the beginning of the railroad's decline into the ditch. There's just bridges all through the town. They were in bad shape and had to be replaced and what do we do? They are the principal areas that we do business. We live through a couple of them, and we managed to move around. Then the Main Street one was the next ones and we said, “Nope. You've got to build this bridge between Markets.” The city manager, Lewis Price, former city manager, committed his career from that point forward to getting that bridge built. They started tearing that bridge down the Saturday after a Market, and they opened that bridge something close to a Saturday before the next Market, and everybody said it couldn't be done. There is the power of the partnerships with the railroad; the state; with the federal highway; with the city. Now we are actually included in the negotiations for the Department of Transportation's road projects that impact this area. [There is a] very large project going on at Business 85 and NC 68, which would have bottlenecked entry into Thomasville. [Their] contract says they can't work for a week before Market until the week after Market. Just can't do it. It's the power of the coordination. Everything from fire, traffic, the removal of litter, the removal of recyclable cardboard -- hundreds of tons during a Market not going into the landfill – [and] bus transportation. Everything that you can think of that's important to making this event a work, we carry on our shoulders during this event. It's all here. It's a big engine. It's humming. We can hear it and we know it's there. We know when the hum gets louder that we're getting close to pre-Market, which is a month before Market. Then we're close to Market. We carry the weight of all of that. So, part of the Marketing Association's job is to be involved directly in decisions that impact the event. The coordination depends on a shared vision that we have with the cities. The shared vision that this event is a business event. These people are all dressed up. They're here on business. This is not a carnival atmosphere. It is not a convention that has leisure time hooked in it. This is not an event that is a fundraising opportunity for anybody that wants to show up. It's a private event. The shared vision with the municipalities carries the responsibility that we identify, as partners, of how this event is going to look. They pass the laws that enforce it. We were just at city council the other afternoon. We asked for some new laws. We asked for the interpretation of some current laws that were challenging the shared vision of this event. JM: Can you illustrate, please? RB: Street food sales. We don't want entrepreneurial street food sales. We don't want entrepreneurial retail sales -- people who show up in panel trucks and sell neckties. We don’t want that. We do not want recreational vehicles to take up our courtesy parking spaces and use them as overnight accommodations. We had six of them at the last Market. A smart crowd comes to Market. They figure out--. It's just kind of hard to stay ahead of them. We [don’t want] mobile showrooms. Market is a combination of a hundred and sixty buildings. The product is in leased space or owned space. We don't want someone coming through town pulling a trailer with iron gates. That [happened at] the last one that came through. They're getting around the system. There's no disciplining it. There's no revenue stream coming into this community because of that. So [we have to deal with] those things. We only appear before city councils when laws have to be enacted or changed. We always work with the elected officials, with the staffs to make this shared vision take place. Rarely are we in the public forum. I believe in Jeffersonian democracy. I believe that democracy is best handled by a few enlightened people. The way we handle this event, is we have a shared vision. We don’t have a big debate. [There are] no big committees. We just get it done. The event looks like all of us want it to look like. Dorothy knows from having been here that this event is a very dignified, very professional event. No carnival atmosphere. Coordination also now includes safety. North Carolina, like any other area, has safety concerns. We are in the central business district. We are the principal tenants of the central business district. These are great, huge, tall buildings -- most of which don't have windows. We're very concerned with lighting. If you fly over this city at night, with our city partner, all of the lightbulbs in the central business district -- and that's the Market area -- now are [lit by] those high sodium peach colored [bulbs that] spread the light out. [This is] probably the best lit city in the state. It's so [well lit] that when we're here doing business [at night], there are no dark spots. JM: You want folks to move around very comfortably. RB: No. We don't want to be the victim of opportunistic crime. We don't want to learn how Florida got German tourists to come back. If we have any serious crime at this Market, it can affect our attendance. It can change our reputation, just like that. So, we meet. We have police officers assigned to us at Market. We are listening to the way they direct the tactical plan for this Market. We have officers on the buildings that are armed [and have] radios. We have foot patrol, bicycle patrol, dog patrol, motorcycle patrol, plain clothed officers and uniformed [officers] everywhere, so that we have a safe environment. The coordination spreads not only into Greater High Point, but it goes over to Greensboro, because people are moving back and forth. They are staying in 15,000 hotel rooms from Burlington to Clemmons – from Burlington west to Clemmons, which takes in all of the principal Triad cities on I-40 and 85 back down through Salisbury, Lexington, Thomasville, [and] Asheboro. That's where it spreads. People do stay in Charlotte and Raleigh, but it's generally because they have some personal relationship -- free rooms usually are what that is. They move back in on somebody they know. We want everybody to be safe in all of those environments. We have liaison programs with all levels of law enforcement, so that we do not hear [about problems] second and third hand. We can go directly to that law enforcement agency. A law enforcement officer here will be talking to a law enforcement officer there and translating all that to us. The network is very deep. It is all decentralized and we've used that term earlier. It's decentralized, but this partnership thing runs right down a straight line. It doesn't vary. We add partners as personalities change or as our needs change, but we have this consistent policy of having partnerships.